The pinstripe-power-suit invasion is descending on university marketing and comms departments. If your higher ed institution doesn’t have a Chief Marketing Officer yet, thought leaders and the latest buzz from esteemed publications like the Wall Street Journal are beating the drum for one, stating, “the arrival of the CMO is the biggest shift in higher-ed administration in the past decade.” In an attempt to strengthen brand communications, harness communications expenditures, and ensure the outcomes outweigh investment, higher ed decision makers are opening the doors of academia to corporate CMOs.
Budget cuts and spending scrutiny are forcing many higher education institutions to think and function like a business – whether the groves of academe accommodate it or not. Today’s higher ed CMO demands that communications teams replace legacy, low-value spending with measurable, higher-ROI tactics where possible. And let’s put the strife aside between traditional public relations and marketing offices; the truth is, both offices are discovering that “big business” accountability doesn’t care what role or function you serve so long as you meet institutional goals with quantifiable outcomes.
Marketing metrics level the playing field for all campus communicators, threatening expensive and hard to measure legacy tactics like billboards and print ads (and hard to justify ones like Yellow Pages buys). Communications offices have to justify their spending. Being under the thumb of the campus CMO means there is no room for inadequate metrics to report performance and in/effectiveness. You want to earn your keep, work together and show the ROI. Three sound marketing tactics that campus PR and marketing offices can use to drive down spending, increase ROI, build brand identity, engage key audiences, and legitimize communications efforts are:
- Adopt new tools and methods
- Develop an integrated content strategy
- Track outcomes and measuring performance
Paid, earned, and owned media are the three channels to promote institutional goals and establish brand affinity. As multi-channel communications become an important part of the marketing-mix, communications offices must transform qualitative tactics into measurable results. To accomplish this, universities such as Vanderbilt and James Madison implement content strategies that elevate their institutions through the highest valued brand endorsement, earned media.
Vanderbilt using tools, content, outcomes
Melanie Moran, associate director of University News and Communications at Vanderbilt University, admits that writing press releases is still important, but PR needs to take advantage of the plethora of channels designed for sharing news and information. Vanderbilt is repurposing content to gain earned media, engage stakeholders, and create two-way conversations using the foundational elements of PR:
- strengthening connections to your organization,
- building a community, and
- get media attention.
Vanderbilt made “research enterprise” the focus of their communications, from brand identity to PR. After developing a content strategy around research, university news and communications adopted a new, narrow set of social media tools, and essentially create multiple doors to the same repository of content.
In doing this, university news and communications has the ability to find, publish, promote, and more importantly track the impact of sharing great stories. News and communications continues to demonstrate its value with measurable outcomes. In one year, news and communications drove 2.5M visitors to their website, increased Facebook engagement by nearly 19%, and upped twitter interactions by 35%.
James Madison using tools, content, outcomes
Enrollment selectivity and student fit is a key goal of JMU’s strategic plan. Instead of creating marketing collateral that pitched the strength of its incoming fall class, JMU uses a platform that creates individual stories for each of their 4,200 freshmen and publishes these stories online. Each student is emailed a URL to their story, where they can read and easily share their unique stories on Facebook and other social networks.
By using readMedia, a software that validates and promotes accomplishments and then measures the audience and engagement with them, the communications office at JMU took generic content that lacked traction with audiences, and repurposed it to generate thousands of personalized stories that are relevant and engaging for each individual student. This personalization allows each student’s family, friends, and social networks to become an audience for each story.
In just three months, JMU promoted 10 achievements, generating 15,516 individual student stories that were published online and distributed to more than 36,000 students and parents. Students and parents shared these institutionally branded accomplishments on Facebook, reaching an audience of approximately 2.1M, driving 40,693 friends and family members to the original story. JMU’s news and communications department continues to demonstrate their impact by creating strong, authentic brand affiliation that supports the institution’s enrollment goals – outcomes that make senior administrators very happy.
Vanderbilt and JMU rely on the content and relationship management of PR and the measurable social media tactics of marketing to build brand awareness and fill the admission funnel. Replacing traditional, low value spending with higher-ROI earned and owned media will bring more attention to your institution, strengthen your brand, and turn engaged brand ambassadors into measurable marketing assets, further demonstrating your value and satisfying your CMO.
readMedia had the opportunity to sit down and chat with designer and illustrator, Philip Pascuzzo about his inspiration behind the readabout.me badge designs. Philip is the designer of the original Twitter bird logo and has created more than 300 book covers.
What were some of your inspirations for the readabout.me badge design
I wanted the badges to be immediately readable and iconic. My research lead me to Otl Aicher’s smart and elegant pictograms for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The simplicity of these are very attractive and stand out among other Olympic pictogram designs. I was inspired by the colorful work of Lance Wyman’s pictograms for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. So the problem was making the read about.me badges colorful, fun and still very simple.
What is your favorite readabout.me badge and why?
The visual and performance arts badge has a sort of mid-century charm that I love. It was difficult at first to solve the problem of visually representing both of these activities on one badge. I’m glad I thought of an eye icon because it says a lot without being complicated at all. Adding human elements, emotion, and a sense of humor to these badges is what makes them work.
What was the most challenging badge topic to come up with a design for?
I think that the “Who’s Who” badge was the most challenging for me. I
presented some options that included a question mark at first. That approach
wasn’t working making it even more difficult. The final design is the
cleanest one out of the batch and I feel works great. Often the simplest
solution is the best, you just may need to get complicated before finding
How do you think you would react If you were still a student and your
school published one of your achievements online using a readabout.me badge,
considering your perspective as an artist/designer?
I would love it! I could probably convince my mom to buy me skateboard
equipment for every badge I receive. This almost game-like incentive is very
attractive and fun. Seeing the badges together is like a pretty mosaic of
your achievements. This sure beats the black and white piece of paper stuck
to the fridge with a magnet.
In your opinion, do you think there will be more of a demand for badges
in the graphic design world?
I really do since users love customizing and interacting with the internet
now more and more. People have always collected rewards for their
achievements. So a badge with a strong design should be a great little
readMedia customers who’ve watched our platform evolve over the last 18 months know that publicizing student achievements in social media is an authentic, powerful way to reach audiences online with positive brand messaging. Turning students (and parents!) into advocates by getting them to share stories of their own accomplishments at an institution is an engaging content strategy that gets results. These personalized stories, and the visual badges that accompany them, are a way to create “micro-virality” about the success of your students and expose all of their connections to the great opportunities available at your institution.
We love the standard set of readabout.me badges that accompany student achievement stories. Designed by Pepco Studios’ Phil Pascuzzo, designer of the original Twitter bird logo, these badges are colorful, engaging and look great in the Facebook newsfeed (plus they generate a ton of likes and comments — four times the average!). But, we also know that many institutions have worked hard to develop strict visual identity systems that incorporate elements of their brand — school colors, mascots, taglines. As a result, we’ve rolled out a new product: readMedia clients now have the opportunity to brand the achievement badges, and even design completely custom badges!
Dozens of our current clients — like Clemson University, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Marist College, Clarkson University, Union College in Kentucky, and Hudson Valley Community College — have all upgraded their readMedia subscriptions to include custom branding on readabout.me. By adding their institution’s name and colors to the existing readabout.me badges, or by having their internal graphics team design custom badges, these institutions and many more are ensuring that when students and parents share achievements online, the badges and the achievement are instantly recognizable and affiliated with the college.
In addition to badges that more closely match an institution’s visual identity, branding packages on readabout.me also include a landing page that aggregates and highlights achievements from that institution’s students. Colleges can design this landing page and link to its other social media properties and its web site.
When students don a college sweatshirt or affix a university window sticker to the back of their car, they’re showcasing their pride and affiliation with an institution. Customized branding on readabout.me allows institutions to ensure that type of affiliation is happening online, too. When a Clemson student shares an achievement that proudly bears a purple-and-orange Clemson badge, complete with the tiger paw, all of his or her Facebook friends connect that student and his or her achievement — be it making the president’s list, studying abroad, or earning a scholarship — with the institution where it occurred. And since the average achievement shared to Facebook generates 7 click-throughs back to the original story on readabout.me, colleges have an even stronger opportunity to drive prospects to their other social properties and web site via the readabout.me story.
If you’re interested in learning about how to add branding and custom badges to your institution’s readabout.me presence, you can contact us at email@example.com.
Hometown Newsmaker started as a product to make it easy for colleges to send group announcements like dean’s list to local newspapers. But over the past few years, it’s eclipsed this tactical purpose and is becoming a strategic grassroots marketing tool and a way to build the online reputation of your students — on the web at readabout.me, via social networks like Facebook, and in local, hometown media.
Working with readMedia clients over the past few months, I’ve realized that those who are most successful are the colleges who have made a conscious switch from using Hometown Newsmaker as a tactical tool to embracing it as a strategic one.
In the next series of blog posts, I’ll share how some of our best clients are using the platform for maximum results.
Strategic tip #1: You Need to Re-think the Concept of Hometown News
Hometown news is moving away from press releases. Sure, the traditional function of hometown news is still important, but what it has really turned into is a content strategy with the opportunity to create a grassroots marketing cycle.
Hometown News is all about recognizing all kinds of achievements in a personalized way, and providing each student with a link to their achievement online at readabout.me (where your students’ personalized online achievements live) to share via Facebook, Twitter or email – this gets positive stories about your institution into the social graphs of your students.
Beyond Dean’s List and Graduation
Using Hometown Newsmaker to only publish achievements like dean’s list and graduation is a missed opportunity. Our most successful clients are those who treat all kinds of student accomplishments and activities as a chance to recognize and promote their students and the opportunities available at their institution.
Today’s millennial-generation students are used to receiving praise and recognition for everything they do — any many of their college activities are indeed praise-worthy.
Stories that in the aggregate seem trivial to include in your online newsroom or pitch to national reporters (like 300 students being inducted into an honor society) are all important achievements to individual students and their family. When these stories become personalized, they’re more meaningful and more likely to be shared.
If you’re a student or a parent, are you more like to share a story from the university newsroom about a groundbreaking on a new wing of the science building, or a story about you or your daughter winning a scholarship?
Colleges who make the most out of Hometown Newsmaker are constantly taking stories about large groups of students and their activities or achievements and creating personalized, hometown news stories from them. You can probably take a look at your current newsroom and find you have dozens of stories you already write in the aggregate that could easily be broken down into personalized hometowners. Here are some great examples:
- UNL students making Cornhusker Marching Band (260 individual stories)
- Washington College welcoming all incoming Freshmen (534 individual stories)
- Georgia Tech students earn Faculty Honors (451 individual stories)
- Malone University students spend summer abroad (77 individual stories)
Hometown News 2.0
Hometown news is classic refrigerator journalism. Local newspapers still love and value this type of content from colleges about local residents. People clip out these stories, pass them around, stick them up on the refrigerator. But today, Facebook is the online refrigerator door. Make sure that your hometown news strategy involves lots of opportunities for students and parents to post their achievements to their wall and share their success with their friends and family.
What type of content can you give students and parents that they will want to share and brag about?